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Reporting Abuse of Adults with Diminished Capacity

What is elderly and adults with diminished capacity abuse?
The abuse of the adults with diminished capacity can take many forms including sexual assault, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and financial abuse.  The Adult Protective Services (under the Virginia Social Services office) provides the following pdf document highlighting the signs of abuse.

For additional information, please see the following article.

What are my responsibilities to report elderly and adults with diminished capacity abuse?
Although researchers are not specifically listed as a legally obligated reporter, there is a lengthy list of responsible parties.

  • Any person licensed, certified, or registered by health regulatory boards listed in § 54.1-2503, except persons licensed by the Board of Veterinary Medicine:
    • Board of Nursing: Registered Nurse (RN); Licensed Nurse Practitioner (LNP); Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN); Clinical Nurse Specialist; Certified Massage Therapist; Certified Nurse Aide (CNA)
    • Board of Medicine: Doctor of Medicine and Surgery, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine; Doctor of Podiatry; Doctor of Chiropractic; Interns and Residents; University Limited Licensee; Physician Assistant; Respiratory Therapist; Occupational Therapist; Radiological Technologist; Radiological Technologist Limited; Licensed Acupuncturists; Certified Athletic Trainers
    • Board of Pharmacy: Pharmacists; Pharmacy Interns; Permitted Physicians; Medical Equipment Suppliers; Restricted Manufacturers; Humane Societies; Physicians Selling Drugs; Wholesale Distributors; Warehousers, Pharmacy Technicians
    • Board of Dentistry: Dentists and Dental Hygienists Holding a License, Certification, or Permit Issued by the Board
    • Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers: Funeral Establishments; Funeral Services Providers; Funeral Directors; Funeral Embalmers; Resident Trainees; Crematories; Surface Transportation and Removal Services; Courtesy Card Holders
    • Board of Optometry: Optometrist
    • Board of Counseling: Licensed Professional Counselors; Certified Substance Abuse Counselors; Certified Substance Abuse Counseling Assistants; Certified Rehabilitation Providers; Marriage and Family Therapists; Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Practitioners
    • Board of Psychology: School Psychologist; Clinical Psychologist; Applied Psychologist; Sex Offender Treatment Provider; School Psychologist – Limited
    • Board of Social Work: Registered Social Worker; Associate Social Worker; Licensed Social Worker; Licensed Clinical Social Worker
    • Board of Nursing Home Administrators: Nursing Home Administrator
    • Board of Audiology and Speech Pathology: Audiologists; Speech-Language Pathologists; School Speechlanguage Pathologists
    • Board of Physical Therapy: Physical Therapist; Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Any mental health services provider as defined in § 54.1-2400.1;
  • Any emergency medical services personnel certified by the Board of Health pursuant to § 32.1-111.5;
  • Any guardian or conservator of an adult;
  • Any person employed by or contracted with a public or private agency or facility and working with adults in an administrative, supportive or direct care capacity;
  • Any person providing full, intermittent, or occasional care to an adult for compensation, including but not limited to companion, chore, homemaker, and personal care workers; and
  • Any law-enforcement officer.

As a researcher, you may fall into a category that makes you legally obligated to report suspicions of abuse.  Failure to report can result in a fine. Regardless of your legal responsibilities, the Board asks that you act in the best interests of the participant.

Your ethical responsibilities as a researcher are explained in the Belmont Report. In the “Respect for Persons” section, it states that “persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection.” In the “Beneficence” section, it states that “Persons are treated in an ethical manner… by making efforts to secure their well-being.”  In your work with the elderly and adults with diminished capacity, please seek to secure their well-being by being aware of their situations and where there may be a potential for harm to them.  Depending on your expertise, it may not be appropriate for you to council an abused adult or to become involved in the family’s situation; in some cases, inappropriate action may put the adult in a dangerous situation.  Please contact the necessary authorities if you are concerned about an adult’s safety and well-being.

Who do I contact if I suspect elderly and adults with diminshed capacity abuse?
The Adult Protective Services (under the Virginia Social Services office) has a hotline for reporting abuse: 1-888-832-3858

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